March 20, 2024

KOKOROKO played (le) poisson rouge (Early Show)

After years of trying, KOKOROKO finally made their U.S. debut with a pair of sold-out shows at New York's (le) poisson rouge.

Back in 2020, the U.K.'s KOKOROKO were supposed to play SXSW with dates to follow in other parts of the country, including a stop at New York's (le) poisson rouge. Obviously, SXSW didn't happen that year and neither did those subsequent shows. Now, after a long four year wait, the Afro-beat and jazz-funk collective finally made it to America and kicked off their tour with two sets in the same night. For their first performance, the sextet took to the stage just after 8:00 and began to slowly infuse their sound throughout the room as light, funky bass, flashy synths, fluid guitar, and steady percussion created an atmosphere that was warm and welcoming as soft touches of brass entered the mix beside sweet, velvety vocals. As one of the leading bands in the rising U.K. jazz scene of the past decade, KOKOROKO's stateside debut came with all of the potential for a major moment in the making and the band thoroughly delivered on the highly-anticipated show. As each song slowly took shape, the band massaged the grooves into swelling moments of blissful melodies that got the crowd to fall deeply under their spell. "Abusey Junction" began with twinkling guitar notes before arriving at a delicate groove that lingered on like a mystic aroma on a steady breeze and was an early fan favorite during a night that saw an unexpected, but highly welcomed, number of new tunes. When guitarist and occasional vocalist Tobi Adenaike-Johnso took a moment to acknowledge that this was the band's first time playing in America and how they thought it might never happen, the room erupted with enormous applause, welcoming the group, and taking them slightly aback by the response as the crowd carried on their raging cheers for what felt like minutes. As the band moved their focus towards the newer material, the crowd ate it up and danced away to the laser-sharp synths that jolted through the electric grooves and dazzling beats that the band laid out. Trading off between vocals and their respective trumpet and trombone, the duo of Sheila Maurice-Grey and Anouska Nanguy were at the front of the pack, essentially leading the rest of the collective through their sonic fusions and Maurice-Grey did most of the speaking for the night as she introduced each song and informed us that more new music would be on the way soon. As the night began to reach the back-half of the set, the band focused on some of their most deluxe work and their magic really took hold of the room, sending the crowd into a state of euphoria as "Baby Ayoola" led to some of the most vibrant portions of the night. "Carry Me" was another glowing gem that highlight the band's dynamic range and their ability to float like a feather one moment before descending into beat-driven grooves that got people moving on the dance floor. To close things out, the band dug deep into "We Give Thanks" and their fervent take on "Something's Going On" which had the crowd ready to go the distance and carry on into the night. Highlighting and celebrating the music of West Africa and the Caribbean and adding their own flare of improvisational-based music came to life with flying colors as they explored and blended styles which they morphed into something that felt truly their own. The wait had been long for both fans and the band alike and to be able to share the special moment together was special and a true once in a lifetime memory for those not just onstage, but those able to witness their joy as well. 

Set list:

01 "Distant Lovers"
02 "War Dance"
03 "Ewà Inú"
04 "Abusey Junction"
05 "Home"
06 "My Prayer"
07 "We Are"
08 "Never Lost"
09 "Doo Doo Dah"
10 "Only You"
11 "Top Gun"
12 "Baba Ayoola"
13 "Carry Me"
14 "We Give Thanks"
15 "Something's Going On"

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